Multi-instrumentalist Stefano Tamborrino dives headfirst into the New Year, mastering albums and deadly moves under the moniker Don Karate. His debut album I Dance to The Silence was released on cassette by Rous Records on December 28. We got a kick out of its eclectic vibes while interviewing the Mr. Miyagi of waxing poetic.
Michelle Davis: You’re a renowned instrumentalist on the Italian jazz scene, but your new record embraces a wide range of genres, from indietronica to pop afrobeat.
Stefano Tamborrino: We spend our lives trying to simplify, cramming complex concepts into just one word. When we peg things by “genre” we are basically tricking ourselves into believing that it’s as simple as that, but this way we never fully grasp their true meaning. I don’t consider myself a jazz musician because I don’t want to feel trapped into that category, even when I’m actually playing or speaking about jazz. That being said, I feel that with this record I haven’t strayed from my personal path. I am myself now as I was before, a bundle of happy mistakes that influence both my life and my musical output. Everyone wants to be on that one right path, but I find the myriad of wrong alleyways much more fascinating. Growing up is all about getting better at making mistakes: that’s my objective for 2019.
MD: What is silence to you and how do you dance to it?
ST: To me, silence has always felt essential. Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve suffered from chronic sore throats. Sometimes I would stay silent for three or four days… and after a while it just came naturally to me. Today, silence is the space in which I set my music free and it is an unendingly fascinating state. My album’s title is based on a habit of mine, which involves singing internally. I tune into music from my memory with my entire being. Sometimes I dance and my closest friends smile and ask if it’s a nice song. It might appear crazy to the rest of the world, but hey, I don’t mind: I Dance to The Silence!
MD: Who is Don Karate and how did he come into being? Is there anything religious in your music, apart from the clerical collar you sometimes wear?
ST: Don Karate actually started out as a character I played in an amateur, unreleased fiction series created with some absolutely brilliant friends of mine. It’s the story of a veteran who learns martial arts while at war. Back from the front, his family rejects him and, when everything seems lost, God bestows upon him the ability to perform miraculous acts through karate (thus, the name Don Karate). I’d say that all my music has a certain religiosity to it, a mystical undercurrent that can be retraced to the fact that it’s free of superstructures and lies. Each track unveils a deep-seated intimacy, quivering with weakness and all that is unconfessed. There are secrets hidden among the notes that are just waiting to be heard.
MD: It seems like cassettes are making a comeback. What led you to release the album on this format?
ST: The whole recording process was very spontaneous and only involved the use of analog instruments. I would come up with an initial skeleton tune and build the song up from that. Supernova, Intro and Interludio 3 were all written and recorded in just one night. The mixing phase was overseen by the fellows at Jambonalab, who gave the album its warm, vaguely low-fi sound that goes perfectly with the spinning reels of an audio tape.
MD: The album’s artwork was created by Florence-based artist Noumeda Carbone. Tell us about this collaboration.
ST: I adore Noumeda and her work. We had worked together previously, putting together live painting and improv sessions. I always knew that the cover of my debut album would be one of her illustrations. In this case, her work Eye Lie fits in perfectly with my idea of silence. When you speak very little, you must find other ways to be “heard”, so experimenting with alternative approaches lies at the very core of my research. Noumeda’s illustration is all about creating and overcoming obstacles as a way to constantly challenge yourself. It also underlines the fact that, in daylight, the eyes do everything, but as the sun sets the hands are best at sifting through the darkness and seizing the deepest of secrets.
MD: Are you looking forward to presenting your new album? How much influence does Florence have on you and your music?
ST: Up until now, I have toured with this project both as an acoustic trio and an electronic duo, but I decided to merge the two things to obtain the rich, powerful timbre I had in mind. The full band will be backing me in future Don Karate recordings and will accompany me live. The line-up comprises Pasquale Mirra (vibraphone), Francesco Ponticelli (bass) and Francesco Morini (electronics). I love traveling, but I also love coming back home to Florence because of its human dimension and the fact that it’s perfect for those who, like me, prefer to get around by foot or bike. All I need is a simple stroll to feel soaked to the bone in beauty.
Order your copy of Don Karate’s release via Rous Records.
*Don’t worry. If you don’t have a cassette player, a digital download awaits you inside the case.